I’ve had the opportunity over the past couple years to tell my life story to a number of different audiences. It’s been a surreal experience, a privilege that I still don’t quite feel I deserve, but, hey, it keeps happening so I am going with it.
Something that I noticed over the course of converting my life story into something which is packaged into a digestible 45-minute speech is that things get simplified.
It’s not that I’m changing the facts, or altering the truth, but in order to make what is an understandably convoluted life trajectory into a linear and (hopefully) engaging speech, I have to streamline things, and that means that I end up giving over a life story which feels, I don’t know, a bit sanitized.
And that led me to thinking about how we often repackage the way we remember things in our lives. I’ve written before about how we are often the heroes in our own stories, how we might remember interactions much more favorably than people who we may have hurt without realizing it, through insensitivity or through actions which came from places of hurt or anger.
Sometimes we remember things more harshly than we need to. I know that for years and years I didn’t want to tell people that I didn’t get into graduate school because I felt like it cast an overwhelmingly negative light on me, it reminded me of all the ways my life wasn’t going well back then, and it dredged up feelings of worthlessness and self-loathing that I hadn’t really dealt with yet, so I developed a sort of pathological aversion to mentioning that part of my life.
Now, when I mention it, I’m able to include it as just another part of my story, another part of my life, though the reality is far messier than that.
Today is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. day, and there are many posts online honoring his legacy. I’ve also seen many posts, both today, and over the past couple years, pointing out that during his lifetime, his message was not received with such open arms or hearts.
Yes, in retrospect, it’s easy for us to say, “well, of course civil rights are good and of course people should be treated equally, no matter their race,” but back during the fight for civil rights, it was not so easy to say that, especially in certain parts of society.
So we can look at this narrative and say, oh he was such a hero, but if we were living back then, we might have viewed him differently. As a rabble-rouser, someone who “made trouble,” who was jailed for constantly fighting for his beliefs.
Hindsight is 20/20, but so often, in the murky present, we are not always certain what the right course of action is.
May we all have the clarity to forge ahead and do the right thing, even when it may be uncomfortable.